This coming Monday I am part of a blog tour for the release of Ruth Freeman’s new book, One Good Thing About America. Blog tours are awesome because you get to learn a wide variety of information about the book straight from the author. In the case of this book, Ruth Freeman has written 10 outstanding posts about how she wrote the book and about immigrant life. Please come back on Monday to check out the blog tour and enter to win a chance to receive a free copy of the book!
One Good Thing About America is a wonderful book about Anaïs, a young girl who has just immigrated to the United States from the Congo. Her mother and younger brother are with her in Maine and trying to adjust to life in the United States. Unfortunately, her father is in hiding from the Congolese government and her brother has also stayed behind.
The book follows Anaïs as she navigates 4th grade in a new school where she struggles with the language, even though back home she had been top in English. The book is written as letters that Anaïs writes to her grandmother, Oma, back in the Congo. Her grandmother requires her to write her letters in English so that she can practice the language, and the fact that she has trouble with grammar and spelling make her situation more relatable and realistic. It also allows the reader to grow with her as she figures things out. Continue reading →
This is the time of year of giving and of bestowing acts of love and kindness on those around us. I recently discovered The Bake Shop Ghost, by Jacqueline K. Ogburn. This delicious book reminds us that it is the little acts that can often mean the most.
Miss Cora Lee Merriweather ran the best bake shop around, but she seemed to have poured all of her sweetness into her cakes for she never smiled and instead seemed to have the pucker of one who had just eaten a sour lemon. When she died, she had no family to leave her bake shop to.
People tried to take over her shop, but her ghost remained and ran each of them out of town. Years pass and Annie Washington comes to take over the shop. After cleaning the place up and making it ready for business she gets down to the business of baking. Miss Cora Lee of course makes an appearance, but Annie is not afraid of a ghost.
The two battle it out all night long until Annie finally cries enough! She asks Cora Lee what she can do so that Cora will allow her to work in peace. Cora has one request, which sounds simple enough, but has a deeper meaning. “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.”
That seemed like an easy enough task for Annie and for the first time in years, the shop was full of warm buttery goodness. Annie bakes up dessert after dessert but none of them “bring tears” to Miss Cora’s eyes. After a month, Annie has run out of ideas and heads to the local library for inspiration. When she finds a section on Miss Cora Lee and the Merriweather Bake Shop, she realizes exactly what kind of cake she needs to make. When she shows it to Cora, her eyes are brimming before she even takes a bite. It was a birthday cake. Annie had learned that it was Cora’s 100th birthday. Not only that, since Miss Cora had been an orphan, there had never been anyone who celebrated her. It wasn’t the perfect cake Cora wanted, she wanted the love that often comes when people buy a cake for someone else.
Cora tells Annie that since she made the perfect cake that she would keep her end of the bargain and leave Annie in peace. But in the time that Annie had been making cakes for the ghost, the two had struck up quite a friendship and Annie had come to appreciate and respect the ghost’s judgement. Rather than wanting Cora to leave her alone in the kitchen, she wanted her to stay on as her partner.
We read a lot of picture books in our house, and one of my new favorites is A Tale of Two Beasts, by Fiona Roberton. This book is a clever way of not only telling a great story, but showing children that there are two sides to every story depending on the narrator’s point of view.
In this book, a little girl is walking through the woods when she finds a lemur and decides to “rescue” him and take him home as a pet. She wraps him up in her scarf and carries him home where she proceeds to “care” for him with a bath, clothing and food.Alas, later that evening, “Fang” runs away out an open window and the little girl can’t understand why. She is even more frustrated when instead of being able to go look for him, her mother proceeds to tell her that it is time for her to eat, take a bath, and go to bed.
So we are already seeing a different perspective because the little girl’s mother is making her do the same things that she was doing to Fang, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg. The little girl’s recounting of her day was only part one of the story….turn the page and you get the tale from Fang’s perspective.
See, poor Fang was hanging around one day having a marvelous time when this girl came up and grabbed him, growled at him, tied him up and took him home to her “secret lair.” There she tortured him in various ways, including giving him squirrel food!Through subtle changes in the illustrations as well, the reader truly feels like they are getting the story from Fang’s perspective.
This is such a fun story and a great way to let children see that there are two sides to every story. It is easy to know how you perceive a situation, but you never really know what is going on in the minds of those around you. This is one book that I know we will read again and again!
A Tale of Two Beasts is an outstanding Kane Miller publication sold by Usborne Books. I did recently become an independent Usborne Books & More consultant, but the review is all mine. If you are interesting in purchasing this book, check out this link.
What if you had a machine that could do all of your homework for you? Would you share that information? What would you do with all of the extra time? How would you feel about using the machine? These are all questions that come up in Dan Gutman’s The Homework Machine.
The Homework Machine tells the story of four fifth graders who found a way out of doing their homework. The foursome is made up of a geek, a class clown, a teacher’s pet and a slacker. When the geek, Brenton, accidentally tells Sam about his machine, it sets the ball in motion for an adventure in ethics and self-discovery.
We picked up this book because it is on the 2016-17 NC elementary school Battle of the Books. J really enjoyed this book and simply couldn’t put it down. For her, she felt that this was one of those books where you really felt like you were a part of the story. She felt that she was right there in the story, seeing it through the characters’ eyes. One reason for that sense of perspective comes from the fact that you read all of the actions from various perspectives. Whereas The Candymakers focused on a long period of time from one character and then repeated that whole segment from another character’s perspective, The Homework Machine, switches from paragraph to paragraph in the four main characters’ perspectives as well as the teacher, two mothers and a few classmates.
J also felt very connected to one of the characters because the two had a great deal in common. With four very distinct personalities, it is probable that a reader will feel a certain bond or kinship with an individual character.
From an adult perspective, it was very interesting to see how the kids not only dealt with the notion of right and wrong when it came to using the machine, but also how they developed as individuals. Judy, the intelligent class-pet who worked hard but excelled, struggled with the most guilt throughout the story. Sam, the class clown, and Kelsey, the slacker, wanted to utilize the homework machine the most because they truly struggled when it came to doing the work and wanted an easy out, so they dealt with less guilt. Brenton invented it as a way to free up his time to study other things that he wasn’t doing in school and because he knew all of the answers anyway.
In addition to the ethical question of using a homework machine, part of the story dealt with each child’s desire, or lack there-of, of fitting in, especially through the eyes of Aam. Sam struggles with both a great deal of self-doubt and yet a strong need to be seen as cool. By being a part of the foursome and seeing Brenton seriously not care what others thought of him, helped Sam have more faith in himself.
This is a great book to get kids thinking about ethics. Additionally, it also highlights the fact that you can’t judge a book, or person, by it’s cover and that we don’t know what others are going through. As we have started to read a few other Battle of the Books entries, that seems to be a theme for a selection of them this year and it is a great way to help teach empathy. All in all, this was a very enjoyable book.
Last summer when the Battle of the Books list came out, I printed out a copy hoping to encourage J to read some of the books over the summer to expand her reading options even though she knew should wouldn’t be allowed to be on the team this year. It was a nice thought on my part, but even though she thought a bunch of the titles sounded good, she really did not care to read them. I actually started reading a number of them on my own, but completely dropped the subject with her. Over winter break, she decided on her own that she was ready to tackle the list.
The first book that she read after making this decision was Tuck Everlasting. She had already read The Lemonade War and Because of Winn-Dixie, and I think she picked Tuck because it had been brought up at our last kids’ book club as an option of a book that has a movie. The main theme of Tuck Everlasting is the notion of immortality and whether it is a blessing or a curse. The Goodreads synopsis says:
“Doomed to – or blessed with – eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, the Tuck family wanders about trying to live as inconspicuously and comfortably as they can. When ten-year-old Winnie Foster stumbles on their secret, the Tucks take her home and explain why living forever at one age is less a blessing that it might seem. Complications arise when Winnie is followed by a stranger who wants to market the spring water for a fortune.”
I was actually hoping to read it before she got a chance, but I wasn’t fast enough. I did wind up reading a chunk of the middle with her, but only because she still enjoys our reading time together before bed. J really enjoyed it and is now thrilled by the notion that there is a Broadway musical coming out. She understood that eternal life isn’t something that we would necessarily want to have, to watch those you love die before you. I think the other reason that she liked the book was because the characters were so well developed and real, even with their ability to never die.
The second book that she read, which got me thinking about the theme of perspective, is “A Dog’s Life – The Autobiography of a Stray.” In Tuck Everlasting you are considering the notion of eternal life. From the outside, it might sound rather appealing, but when you go through the experience yourself, there are many challenges that come up and make living forever not such an enticing goal. The book A Dog’s Life does a really exceptional job of considering the world from a dog’s perspective from birth through to old age. This dog happens to also be a stray whose life gets impacted tremendously by the other people, both human and animal, that are in her life.
The Goodreads synopsis of A Dog’s Life says: “Squirrel and her brother Bone begin their lives in a toolshed behind someone’s summer house. Their mother nurtures them and teaches them the many skills they will need to survive as stray dogs. But when their mother is taken from them suddenly and too soon, the puppies are forced to make their own way in the world, facing humans both gentle and brutal, busy highways, other animals, and the changing seasons. When Bone and Squirrel become separated, Squirrel must fend for herself, and in the process makes two friends who in very different ways define her fate.”
A Dog’s Life is incredibly far away from the books that J would typically tend to read, yet she absolutely loved it. Author Ann Martin writes with simplicity and clarity and makes even non-dog lovers feel for her characters. When a family treats Squirrel with cruelty, J and I had a conversation on how people could be that way and how important it is to care for others. There were so many moments in this book that resonated with us and brought out strong feelings.
When I asked J what she liked the most with A Dog’s Life, she really enjoyed that it was from the dog’s perspective and written in her voice. She had done work in her third grade class on perspective before winter break, but this seemed to impact her on a stronger level then writing a short piece. I’m just glad that she’s understanding things on a variety of levels and enjoying stories that stray from the predictable.
I am lucky that J loves to read as much as she does. We are looking forward to the time when she can officially be on the Battle of the Books team. She struggles with the fact that her classmates read books so that they can take reading counts tests on them. She loves books and doesn’t have a competitive bone in her body when it comes to them, she just wants to share her love of books with anyone who will listen to her, but she doesn’t want to quantify what she is reading. I think that she will thrive being allowed onto the Battle of the Books team next year so that she will have a group of people reading the same books and feeling them with the same sense of passion that she does and she could use a little drive of competition as well. For now, because she is reading things that many of her friends are not, if she wants to have a conversation about a book she either has one with me or else she finishes a book and tries to figure out which of her friends might read next.
It has been great to see her gain a different type of perspective on life by reading things that challenge her notions. The Battle of the Books will continue to allow her to get additional perspective and be surrounded by those who appreciate books the way that she does.